Keeping Your "Gard" Up: Merck Targets HPV Vaccine to Boys
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which advises the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, voted unanimously to recommend routine use of the HPV vaccine Gardasil in 11 and 12-year-old boys. While the CDC had previously said that doctors can use the vaccine in boys if they’d like, there was no strong recommendation until now.
And it comes with a bit of a debate.
HPV vaccinations have been part of the preventative treatment for girls and women between the ages of 11 and 26 for quite some time, hoping to stem the sexually transmitted virus that can lead to some forms of cancer. While it was known that the same vaccine largely protects boys from genital warts, it wasn’t until recently that several new studies linked HPV to cancer in boys as well. Because of the new information, the U.S. vaccine advisors made their call.
The political controversy will definitely continue, however, due to a concern raised by Republican congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who thought the vaccine could cause “mental retardation.” CDC experts have attested that there is no evidence to these claims; and because of the possibility of a massive spread of HPV, vaccinating both sexes just seemed to make more logical sense.
But it also makes more money for pharmacy giant Merck & Co., the producers of Gardasil.
While there was once a huge market, Gardasil’s sales hit $1.1 billion worldwide in 2009 and have been hovering in that range ever since. Sales have stalled because of the competition from a rival GlaxoSmithKline product, and because now that many younger women are being immunized, there is a much more limited practical application for anyone over the age of 11. The biggest problem on the patient’s end was also related to expenses.
The average cost is $360 for a course of three shots, which are needed as part of the treatment. Many insurance companies balked at the idea of covering what was deemed an “optional” vaccination for a low-risk group. But with the latest link to mouth and throat cancers, it shouldn’t be long before Gardasil is covered under most prescription plans.
So it appears to be a general win-win for the public and for the drug-makers. The only question now is, who exactly was pushing for new studies and recommendations from the U.S. vaccine advisers? Some among the holistic communities are wondering if these new procedures will simply double Gardasil’s already massive profit, and provide a new home for a drug that was leveling off quite a bit. But medical professionals are preaching that it will only make the vaccine more accessible for the people who actually want to take advantage of it.
Whether or not you believe that Gardasil’s vaccine will help end the spread of the targeted types of cancer, or if you simply think it’s another stunt by a massive drug company that has billions of dollars on the line with every new test, options are always a good thing in the world of modern medicine.
So even if you’re not buying the hype, allowing those that are to use Gardasil under their insurance coverage will be a big help. And if there’s anything we’ve learned, it’s that, once again, money and medical care are inseparable.
Steenhuysen, Julie. "U.S. Advisers Recommend Gardasil HPV Shots for Boys." Reuters. 25 Oct. 2011. Web. 8 May 2012.